QUETTA: The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) has expressed concern over human rights violations and bad working conditions in Balochistan’s coal mines.

Addressing a press conference at the Quetta Press Club on Friday, veteran member of the rights body Husain Naqi said the HRCP’s fact-finding mission was concerned to find that coal miners remained vulnerable to human rights violations.

At least 176 miners have been killed and 180 injured in mining accidents this year, he said, citing data of the Pakistan Central Mines Labour Federation. Miners in Balochistan also face the risk of targeted attacks by non-state actors.

Based on a sample of mines visited by the team, on-site healthcare appeared to be an exception rather than the norm, a handout showed.

176 miners killed, 180 injured in several accidents this year

Given that coal mining is internationally classified as a hazardous occupation, mine owners and contractors must ensure that every mining site has a functioning ambulance service and an on-site emergency health worker, and that regular internal safety inspections are carried out, Mr Naqi stressed.

With respect to external safety inspections, the fact that only 27 mine inspectors are available to oversee health and safety in more than 6,000 mines in the province is also a cause for concern.

“The mission’s broad findings reveal that the majority of coal miners are not registered with the Employees’ Old-Age Benefits Institution or other social security programmes, which leaves them highly vulnerable once they are no longer able to work,” he pointed out.

Moreover, the compensation for death and injury is lower in Balochistan (i.e. Rs300,000) compared to other provinces (Rs500,000).

According to the HRCP, many labour union representatives also say they are deeply unhappy with the contractor system of operating coal mines because contractors have little stake in ensuring the safety and security of their workers and resort to cost-cutting measures.

It is also a matter of concern that, in many cases, contractors themselves function as the heads of labour unions, which is a potential conflict of interest.

The HRCP also recommended that the government upgrade the status of the coal mining sector to an industry and hold both mine owners and contractors accountable for running their sites in line with the provisions of the Mines Act of 1923 and subsequent amendments.

The commission also urges the government to ratify and implement ILO Convention 176 on safety and health in mines as soon as possible, besides investing in health, education and infrastructure, especially in and around coal mining areas and across the province in general.

The mission’s report will be released as soon as possible, Mr Naqi said.

Published in Dawn, November 20th, 2021

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